Fire, walk with me

PUBLISHED: 11:58 22 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:41 06 May 2010

The intrepid firewalkers get ready for their ordeal - Picture courtesy of SKM Photographic Studio

The intrepid firewalkers get ready for their ordeal - Picture courtesy of SKM Photographic Studio

I WILL do anything for the sake of journalism. From military fitness training to baton twirling and fishing for trout, I ve done many a strange thing in an attempt to entertain Herts Ad readers and I ll be damned if I ever turn down a good, hearty challen

I WILL do anything for the sake of journalism. From military fitness training to baton twirling and fishing for trout, I've done many a strange thing in an attempt to entertain Herts Ad readers and I'll be damned if I ever turn down a good, hearty challenge. So when the Hospice of St Francis asked me to take part in a "life changing" firewalk, I signed myself up straight away.

But that was back in July. Four months later, the challenge was a couple of days away and the prospect of walking over burning hot coals was starting to worry me. My poor mother, who often gets nervous in the run-up to my more extreme Herts Ad missions, was even more on edge than me but nonetheless I soon found myself sitting in a hotel alongside fellow fundraisers ready to 'Hot Foot it for St Francis'.

For those of you who do not know, fire walking involves taking off your shoes and socks and running over a 20ft-long bed of molten ash which is burning at around 800 degrees Fahrenheit. A daunting prospect - what on earth would that feel like? Painful memories of my Sicilian summer holiday sprung to mind, when I spent hours marooned on a beach towel because the sand was too hot to cross.

But our guide for the day Cliff Mann, the UK's most experienced firewalking instructor, was on hand to quell our fears and take us through a "learn or burn" training session. Normally I find it difficult to concentrate for two hours solid, but Cliff's warnings about the "eyebrow-scorching flames" and the "phenomenal potential for injury" caught my attention and from that point on I clung on to his every word.

First things first, how can I walk across a path hot enough to give me third degree burns without even breaking sweat? The theories, Cliff told us, are plentiful and range from "it is fake fire" (as opposed to the real stuff) to "everyone is hypnotised" and my personal favourite, "you hover across using the steam made by your sweaty bare feet."

As much as I'd love to believe the latter, I'm afraid the answer lies with physics. The fact that molten ash is a very poor conductor of heat is key (here's hoping they haven't used oak by mistake), and the added factors of movement across the ash and a little known law called the Leidenfrost Effect (any moisture on your skin will take some of the heat away) makes firewalking a piece of cake.

So anyone can walk over a bed of hot embers - the question is, are you willing to do it? Cliff said that there were two types of people in this world: the "crazy people" and the "normal people", and you must be one of the former to voluntarily walk over fire. The normal people, such as my mum, are perfectly content to wait outside and watch their crazy loved ones walk over fire.

But even crazy people need a bit of encouragement and for the rest of the session Cliff focused on pumping us all up for the challenge ahead. We learnt how to determine our mood through our body language ("positive physiology creates a positive attitude!" Cliff beamed) and then psyched ourselves up by repeatedly yelling at the top of our voices, "I am magnificent, strong and powerful!" A very effective technique and I will bear it in mind whenever I am next feeling afraid.

And so the time had come and we all couldn't wait to get across those embers. Not even the pouring rain outside dampened our spirits as we marched towards the path of fire, the sound of tribal drums playing in the background. But then I caught my mum's anxious face in the crowd and she frantically beckoned me over, telling me that it looked "extremely dangerous" and was I sure I wanted to do it?

What with mum's last-minute warning and the feel of fire on my face, I suddenly started to feel a little less magnificent and the fear came flooding back. But the crowd of fidgety firewalkers kept pushing me closer and closer toward the front of the queue and there was no going back now. With one last deep breath and an encouraging nudge from Cliff, I went for it.

My firewalk - or firesprint, to be more accurate - was over within a couple of seconds and, aside from a rather sooty pair of feet, all I was left with was a feeling of jubilation. It was a bizarre feeling, rather like walking on warm moss and I would have happily given it another go, had I not thought it cruel to put mum through it a second time.

I went home feeling magnificent once again, safe in the knowledge that The St Francis Hospice firewalkers raised £7,500 that night. For all those crazy daredevils out there who can't resist a challenge, I'd thoroughly recommend firewalking as a once in a lifetime experience. Just don't take your mum along with you.

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